Nine massive tech trends coming to Asian finance in 2017

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Banks from J.P. Morgan to Standard Chartered are hiring technologists in Singapore and Hong Kong. And the two cities are competing to become the leading Asian hub for fintech start-ups.

But what does 2017 have in store if you work in financial IT in Asia? Several tech experts in the region reveal the key trends set to impact the job market this year.

1. Start-ups struggle to hire

“Not only is the tech talent pool small in Hong Kong, but competition is rife among banks, telcos, large tech companies and start-ups,” says Alex Medana, CEO of Hong Kong consultancy FinFabrik and a former Deutsche Bank vice president. “For most grads here having a bank on their CV is still more appealing than a start-up – banks pay more and provide better employment security. Start-ups face a predicament around hiring and retaining developers, and tech people more broadly. This situation might evenyaully reverse once a few local fintech champions emerge.”

2. Generalists wanted

“There’s never been a better time to be a tech generalist at a bank in Hong Kong,” says Medana. “These are people with the ability to link both sides of ‘fin’ and ‘tech’. For example, translating business requirements, balancing risk and regulations with client needs, and grasping enough of blockchain, AI, big data, algos and so on to have informed conversations about innovation. These broad-based skills are needed in new job functions, such as working in an innovation lab at a bank.”

3. AI investment

Banks in Asia are investing more in AI and machine learning. Last year, for example, DBS launched an AI platform allowing customers to access accounts via mobile messaging apps. “There’s demand in Asia for experts in these domains so banks can introduce solutions that automate processes – such as using machine learning algorithms to provide forex signals – and free up their data analysts and engineers from mundane monitoring work,” says Kimmy Paulino, Singapore COO of Startupbootcamp. Singapore start-ups like SuperText and hiHedge are also focusing on AI technology.

4. Infrastructure upgrades

Infrastructure professionals at banks in Asia will need to upgrade their skills this year. “Knowing Windows Server alone won't be enough to have a successful career. You’ll need to understand virtualisation and cloud technology – Amazon Cloud, Azure or other cloud platforms,” says Vince Natteri, managing director of Hong Kong recruiters Pinpoint Asia.

5. More fintech interns in HK

Alongside their usual intern intakes, 11 banks in Hong Kong are offering about 70 tech internships this summer under the new Fintech Career Accelerator Scheme run by the HKMA and the Applied Science and Technology Research Institute. The programme aims to tackle the city’s growing shortage of IT talent. “Students and grads joining banks in Hong Kong will have to show how they can act as a bridge between the expectations of their generation around financial products and the feasibility to deliver these product for the bank,” says Janos Barberis, founder of online platform FinTech HK.

6. Strong demand on the buy-side

“Last year a number of prop houses and hedge funds opened or grew their regional technology capabilities in Hong Kong,” says Peter Barker, a partner at Atlas Global Search in Hong Kong. “This is yet another sign of global firms realising the strength of the Hong Kong software engineering candidate market. But they’ve been surprised at how challenging it’s been to attract top talent, given the cultural reticence here to working for a smaller ‘higher-risk’ firm, even when lucrative pure-cash packages are on offer.”

7. And for front-end developers at banks

“There’s also rising demand for front-end development skills – particularly across the newer Web 2.0 frameworks – as banks in Asia take note of how this technology can support the scale and performance of highly responsive single-page and React applications,” says Barker. “As banks’ front-ends become increasingly overloaded with more complex, real-time data, there’s also a push into some of the newer visualisation tools to enhance user engagement and experience.”

8. B2B start-ups will boom

“This year we’ll see a growth in business-to-business infrastructure companies in Singapore fintech, especially those building products in asset management, capital markets, trade finance and cyber security,” says Markus Gnirck, managing director of Singapore fintech investor tryb Capital. “Besides having strong tech teams, these firms will need people to sell their products to financial institutions and governments.”

9. Regtech start-ups won’t?

“I’m a bit puzzled by the increased visibility that regtech start-ups in Asia are getting,” says Ovidiu Olea, a former HSBC and Citi banker, who now runs Hong Kong start-up Valoot Technologies. “Regulatory compliance technology is already deeply embedded in Asia, with all large banks having invested a huge amount into hires and technology development. Moreover, traditional fintech players like Bloomberg and Reuters are already all over regtech – they have tried and tested solutions which they’ve thrown a lot of capital at.”

Image credit: loveguli, Getty

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